The Grass is Greener in Ireland

Luxury High-tech hotels Add a New Dimension to Southern Ireland

By Phyllis Steinberg

The solid green landmass of Ireland is enough to mesmerize any tourist, but when you combine the many shades of green, the mountains grazing with sheep and luxury hotels, you have the perfect prescription for an unforgettable holiday.

My visit to the Emerald Isle began in Dublin, where my direct flight from Orlando on Aer Lingus landed, right on time. I left in the evening and arrived just in time for sunrise in Dublin. A doorman in a top hat greeted me and whisked me through the marble lobby, past a massive crystal chandelier and majestic staircase at The Shelbourne, a 19th century luxury hotel, steeped in tradition and a long time favorite of loyal locals.

The Shelbourne was closed for more than a year for remodeling and refurbishment and the transformation has taken this historic luxury five star hotel to a new level.

My room had elegant period furnishings, a wonderful plush mattress, a heavenly thick comforter and a glistening white marble bathroom. Adjacent to the lobby were the elegant public rooms, which included a tea room, lively circular bar, restaurants and a gift shop. The hotel is centrally located on St. Stephen’s Green, walking distance to the popular Grafton Street with its myriad of designer shops, restaurants, Irish pubs and jewelry stores.

Dublin is a vibrant and thrilling city, with many young people strolling in the streets and gathering on street corners and at local pubs. The Shelbourne’s public rooms were always bustling with activity and a table in the tea room was a luxurious indulgence that had to be reserved well in advance.

The Temple Bar district of Dublin holds a dazzling assortment of cafes, bars and theatres. Dining at The Clarence Hotel, a 19th century hotel adjacent to the Temple Bar district, was a memorable experience. The elegant wood paneling and sleek modern design of the hotel is worth a visit. The hotel was recently renovated by the owner Bono of the Irish rock band U2.

Speaking of sleek and modern, the Dylan Hotel in Dublin is a modern showpiece of design. I spent a night at this 44-room boutique hotel and had to ask the concierge how to use the phone, bathtub and sink. The unique design and outstanding service make this hotel an excellence choice for any traveler. It is located near Upper Baggot Street, in a residential section away from the hustle and bustle of city life. The ultra-modern rooms have flat screen televisions and ipods. Personalized service is what you will receive at the Dylan. Guest services brought a lap top computer to my room so I could check my emails.

There are many sights to see in Dublin and among the top tourist attractions is the Guinness Storehouse. No, they won’t tell you the recipe for the favorite Irish beer, but the exhibition takes visitors through the brewing process and explains what ingredients are in the famous black brew. The tour ends with a free pint of Guinness on the top floor of the storehouse in a circular glass bar with magnificent views of the city.

Don’t leave Dublin without a visit to Trinity College. The educational institution which was founded in the 16th century houses a magnificent old library with two tiers of antique oak bookcases holding thousands of books. Trinity College is also home to The Book of Kells, a skillfully decorated manuscript that is believed to originate from AD 800 and to be the work of monks in Scotland. There are also cathedrals and castles in Dublin, from the famous St. Patrick’s Cathedral to the Dublin Castle. And for art lovers, there is the exceptional National Gallery which contains Italian, French, Dutch and Spanish works in addition to Irish art.

The Wicklow Mountains, a short drive from Dublin, contain some of the most lush countryside that Ireland has to offer. There are many ancient castles and awe inspiring scenes.

The Powerscourt House and Gardens in County Wicklow was one of the highlights of my visit to Ireland. The resort’s location traces its origins to the 12th century. This superlative estate and gardens are located at the foot of Sugar Loaf Mountain. There are walled gardens, fish ponds, tree plantations, terraced gardens and a large Japanese garden with paths and a pagoda. A splendid fountain, based on the fountain in the Piazza Barberini in Rome, is the centerpiece of the gardens and a great spot for picture taking.

The Powerscourt Gardens and Sugar Loaf Mountain provide the perfect landscape for a luxury hotel in County Wicklow and now the country has one. The Ritz-Carlton Powerscourt completed in October, 2007, is located on 10 acres on the grounds of the Powerscourt Gardens. The first Ritz Carlton in Ireland, is seven stories in height with magnificent views of the Gardens and Sugar Loaf Mountain. There is a heliport if you want to arrive there by helicopter. The inviting lobby has a Georgian-inspired interior with period furnishings and matches beautifully with the elegant surroundings in County Wicklow.

More than half of the Ritz’s Powerscourt 200 guest rooms are suites. I stayed in one of the suites and was overwhelmed by its high-tech amenities. My suite contained a kitchen and living room, two bathrooms, a bedroom and dressing area. It was controlled by a glass panel located at various places throughout the suite. Next to my bed, in the nightstand, was a control panel, which opened and closed the draperies, turned the lights on and off and regulated the heat and air conditioning systems in the room. I needed a little help from the concierge to figure out all of the controls, but once I mastered them, I was basking in luxury. All I had to do is relax in my featherbed with signature linens and press a button.

The Ritz Powerscourt has a 30,000 square foot spa with 20 treatment rooms and two personal spa suites. Need I say more? I was blown away by the 20 meter Swarovski crystal-lit pool and relaxation areas, hot-pools and saunas with superb views of The Sugar Loaf Mountain. There are two golf courses, the East the West Course, with 36-holes of championship golfing, set in some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable. One of the restaurants at the Ritz features the cutting-edge cuisine of Chef Gordon Ramsay who partnered with the hotel to open his first signature restaurant in Ireland. The Gordon Ramsay at Powerscourt is located on the third floor of the hotel, has floor to ceiling glass windows and takes full advantage of the Sugar Loaf Mountain views. There is a also a traditional Irish Pub in the Ritz called McGill’s, created within the hotel for guests to enjoy a pint of Guinness and a menu of typical Irish pub fare.

Photos by Phyllis Steinberg

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